Jimmy hadn't expected, much less intended, things to end up the way they did. Emma would've gone mentioning that the way to hell was paved with good intentions. Jimmy wondered if it matter how good one's intentions were.
Going into the town of Sweetwater was always a nice thing. Get to see people, spend a little money on something at the general store, maybe get some sarsaparilla at the saloon. After a few long days of riding, Jimmy knew he should have gone by the station first, at least cleaned up a bit. But, instead he headed straight for town, and straight to the salon.
It weren't a drink he really wanted, just something to wet his whistle. Enough people came into the saloon off a hard ride, that the extra dust and grim Jimmy brought in with him weren't really looked at too close.
He strolled over to the bar, gave a smile to the barkeep, man he'd been served by before. Then, he ordered himself a sarsaparilla and leered just a bit to make sure the barkeep didn't go laughing or anything at Jimmy for not ordering a whiskey, like a real man woulda.
Teaspoon didn't like 'em drinking. Emma never much liked it, and Rachel just didn't keep with it at all. So, Jimmy'd only have himself a sarsaparilla, then head on back to the station, get a little cleaned up, maybe sleep for a few days.
Being the middle of the day, the saloon was mostly empty. At the far end another man, looking a hell of a lot worse for wear than even Jimmy, hunched over a glass and half-empty bottle of whiskey. One of the regulars, sipped his beer, watching the patrons. A few rough looking men, maybe trappers or other sorts from the furs they wore, gathered around a back table playing cards.
All Jimmy meant to do was have a drink and get back on his way to the waystation, But, then a new man walked into the saloon. The fancy guns hung on holsters off his hips was what Jimmy noticed first about him. No man wore guns like that if'n he didn't know how to use them.
Now, Jimmy should have known better than to get himself in trouble with such men, or least the others would think so.
The gunslinger stepped up to the bar beside Jimmy and ordered himself a whiskey. He downed half his drink and gave a long sigh. “That hit the spot,” he said in a gravely voice.
Jimmy weren't sure if he was supposed to be responding to that or not, so he just nodded in reply. He also wasn't sure if the gunslinger had needed something to wet his whistle, or the calming effects of the alcohol. He hoped the man wouldn't go looking up and notice just what Jimmy was drinking. Sarsaparilla certainly didn't make Jimmy look very tough.
The gunslinger finally glanced around the room. He dipped his head back to his whiskey and took another long sip. Then, he turned and looked more seriously back at Jimmy. His brow furrowed, and he squinted his dark eyes until they were tight slits. “I know you?” the gunslinger finally asked.
Jimmy shook his head. “Nope.” He finished his drink and pushed it forward for the bar keep to get rid of. Jimmy didn't recognize the gunslinger, but he'd been called out before by people he ain't ever meet Best he go on and get out of here.
“Sure?” the gunslinger reached out and held on to Jimmy's wrist as he turned to go.
“Yep.” Jimmy dipped his head. “Sorry, mister. Must be mistaking me for someone else.”
“Nah.” The gunslinger shook his head. His hand still held tight to Jimmy's wrist, keeping him from leaving. “I don't go mistaking much.” He cocked his head, narrowed his eyes further.
“I know where I seen you.” The loud surprise in the gunslinger's voice made Jimmy back up a step.
Jimmy tried to dip his head further. He had a bad feeling about this. “I ain't ever seen you,” and truthfully Jimmy hadn't, “so you must be mistaken.”
“Hickok, 'Wild Bill' Hickok, right?” The gunslinger pulled Jimmy's head up.
Jimmy eyed the gunslinger, still not able to keep his eyes from the guns at the other man's hips. “I don't mean no trouble.” Jimmy never did, not that it got him much of anywhere good. He backed away from the gunslinger. Palms flat, he kept his hands well away from his guns.
The gunslinger gave a crocked smile, it showed off a few missing teeth. “Richard Bartly,” the man dipped his head slightly in greeting, but his steel, dark eyes never left Jimmy. “Seems you been trying to make a point with those colt navy's of yours.” Bartly waved his hand in the direction of Jimmy's guns.
“Don't mean to have done nothing like that.” Jimmy stumbled a bit as it stepped through the open doorway of the saloon and onto the lower street walkway. “It's been nice and all to meet you, Mister Bartly.” Jimmy reached behind his head for his hat and set it firmly onto his head. “But I really ought to get going.”
Jimmy dipped his head, and turned to the street and his mare tied up beside the walkway.
“Just a second, Hickok.” Bartly's voice grated so that Jimmy paused with one hand outreached still for the reins of his horse. “Don't go running off that fast.”
Jimmy'd turned back around and taken two rushed steps up to Bartly before he'd really thought about it. “Just what you think you doing? Harassing a man when he's just enjoying a drink, when he just got off a long few days ride.” Jimmy took another step, closing the distance between the other man. Up this close, Jimmy could smell the dirt, stink and horse on Bartly.
“I ain't never done nothing to you, so just leave me be.” Jimmy fisted his hands and tried to catch his breath.
For a moment Bartly stared back. Jimmy didn't need to look down to know Bartly had his hands resting on his guns. Then, Bartly gave another crocked smile, wider than the previous one.
“What a temper,” Bartly said, mirth in his voice. “Only gonna get you killed sooner, son, you want to go living by the gun.”
“And what do you care about that?” Jimmy yelled. Behind him he heard the shuffle of bootfall on the wooden planks of the walkway.
Kid and then Buck were tugged back Jimmy's arm and him with it. Bartly looked at the other riders with a grin on his features. Man went living by the gun, he often did it on his own. And Jimmy did wonder about the day he wouldn't have the other riders to back him up and help him out.
“Come on, Jimmy,” Cody said. “He ain't worth it.” The others agreed.
Bartly tipped his hat. “Be seeing you around, Hickok, I'll be sure of that.”
Jimmy opened his mouth to throw back another threat, or maybe a protest about that being true. But, beside him Kid shot him a look that closed Jimmy's mouth again.
Using signs, Ike asked, 'What were you doing in there?' He pointed with a frown at the door of the saloon that Bartly had sauntered back into.
Jimmy just shrugged. The others wouldn't understand anyway.
Cody slapped Jimmy's back, which lifted a cloud of dust from his jacket. A wide grin covered his face. “Looks like you had one hell of a ride.”
Jimmy didn't quite manage a smile at that. What gave a man like Bartly the right to threaten him? And when would men like that stop coming after and bothering him?
“Come on.” Kid had grabbed the reins to his paint. “Let's get back out to the station.” And damn Kid for always being the word of wisdom.
Jimmy nodded and mounted up with the other riders. Buck drove the wagon of supplies, likely the reason they were in town anyway. Jimmy cast one look back over his shoulder at the departing open doorway of the saloon, but men like Bartly weren't really worth his time to go thinking on.
Jimmy didn't think much about Bartly's words. At least not until a ride a few days later. He hadn't gotten very far from the station, riding his usual mare around a wooded bend, when a shot fired out. The horse reared up, and Jimmy pulled it to a stop.
From around the bend came Bartly with a broad grin. “Well if it ain't, Wild Bill.”
Jimmy pulled his horse around, keeping his eyes on Bartly. “You got a problem, Bartly?” He could hear the anger in his voice. He didn't need this, had never wanted this.
“Someone should teach you something about the way of the gun, son.” Bartly standing on foot stepped up closer. His eyes were narrowed on Jimmy, one of his pistols held out and aimed at Jimmy.
“Just what do you need to teach me?” Jimmy pulled the horse to a full stop. He liked that he could look down on Bartly. Suppose he could also easily ride away, but that weren't really Jimmy's way. His hand rested on one of his own pistols.
“You don't go angering a man, especially one that knows how to use a gun.” Bartly's grin widened. “You get back to town, and I'll show you what I mean.”
Jimmy cocked his head. “What I said, were just talk. I told you I ain't looking for trouble.”
Barlty shrugged and moved out of Jimmy's path. “Yep, you said so. But, seems Hickok that trouble seems to find you. See you in a few days.”
Jimmy frowned, he was still anger enough that he wasn't sure he could back down. Besides, Bartly didn't seem the type to stop perusing him.
“If we're done then,” Jimmy said. He sat higher in his saddle and stirred the horse a few steps forward.
Bartly dipped his head, although his eyes didn't leave Jimmy. “For now, Wild Bill.”
Jimmy frowned and for once held his tongue. His rode on, finished his ride, but the whole time he couldn't stop thinking about what waited when he returned back to Sweetwater. Made his ride no fun. And the more Jimmy thought about it the more angry he grew with men like Bartly.
He did, however, have enough sense to ride back to the way station and see about getting some help from the other riders.
It was Kid that greeted him with a smile when Jimmy exchanged his package with Buck. Kid slapped Jimmy on the shoulder. “Good ride?” he asked.
Jimmy frowned. “Ride was fine. Getting called out by Bartly wasn't.”
“Bartly?” Cody looped out to meet them.
“Gunslinger the other day in town,” Jimmy said.
Kid shook his head.
It was Lou who spoke what the others were all thinking, “What exactly did you say to him?”
“Wasn't nothing he should have taken offense to.” Jimmy weaved past them all and strolled over to the bunkhouse to drop off his stuff.
“What you gonna do about it?” Cody asked as the others followed Jimmy into the bunkhouse.
Jimmy shrugged. He didn't feel like hiding from men like Bartly. “Meet him in town I suppose.” Did he really have another choice?
“You think that's wise?” Kid cocked his head.
“Nope.” Jimmy unholstered one of his navy colts and made sure it was all in order. He'd have to be using it no doubt.
Lou crossed her hands over her chest. “Well you're not going alone.”
“Jimmy and his mouth is what got him into trouble.” Cody pointed at Jimmy. “Maybe he should go fixing it himself.”
Kid frowned and shook his head. Lou stared over at Cody.
Noah let out a long sighed. “Jimmy might be a fool that runs his mouth too much, but it doesn't mean we don't have his back.”
Ike nodded his head and signed that he agreed. Cody sighed and finally nodded along with Kid and Lou.
Jimmy wasn't sure if he really wanted to get them all messed up in his problem. Jimmy put his other colt back in his holster. He rested his hands on his guns. He finally nodded his head.
Town was empty when they got there. Jimmy supposed everyone had heard there would be trouble and settled into their homes. There wasn't anything for Jimmy to do but stroll down main street. In the distance he could see Bartly standing alone in the middle of the street.
“Come on out, Wild Bill,” Bartly shouted.
The others veered off to the right or left. Spreading out and keeping to the shadows to make sure that Bartly didn't have any extra guns looking to make the fight unequal. Jimmy glanced around the rooftops and corners of the buildings. Hard to tell, but from shadows there might have been other gunslingers out there.
“I ain't no coward, Bartly.” Jimmy's stomach tightened and his hands went to his guns. “I don't mean you no harm. Didn't mean whatever it was I said.”
Bartly laughed. “What's done is done.” Bartly's hands rested on his own pistols. “I'll make sure to make it quick.”
“We ain't gotta do this.” Jimmy approached to about ten paces from Bartly and pulled to a stop.
“Son, you gonna live by the gun, you're gonna have to grow a little less of a conscience.” Bartly narrowed his eyes. “So, you ready or not, Hickok?”
Jimmy flexed his hands over his guns. He took a deep breath and said, “Ready.”
“Count of ten,” Bartly said.
Jimmy nodded and Barlty began a slow count. Jimmy didn't spare the glance to make sure the other riders were looking out for him, he knew that they would be. The numbers ticked down. Jimmy narrowed his eyes. For a moment, there wasn't nothing in the world but him, Barrly and their guns.
Ten got called. Jimmy drew both colts with lightning speed. He fired once with each colt. He heard another shot, and in the distance felt pain radiating through his left shoulder.
Bartly stumbled and then fell to the ground. Guns still raised, Jimmy approached Bartly. The gunslinger gave a gurgled breath, and looked up to Jimmy with surprise.
“Didn't think you really had it in you, son,” Bartly whispered.
Jimmy lowered his colts, but kept them in his hands. He frowned. “I ain't a coward. And sorry, I didn't mean you no harm.”
Jimmy hadn't wanted to get to this moment, and maybe he shouldn't have let his tongue get away from him. Now, another man lay dying at his feet. “Sorry,” Jimmy whispered again.
He could hear the others trotting out from their hiding places. A few other men, gunslingers, came out of hiding too, and looked down at Bartly. Jimmy guessed Bartly had wanted to play things fair.
It was Kid that slapped Jimmy on his shoulder. “Come on. Let's get back to the station.”
There wasn't anything left to do here. Bartly's friends were reaching down to gather up his body. Jimmy finally holstered his guns. He expected to see long, disapproving faces when he turned to the others, but he didn't.
“Yeah,” Jimmy finally managed to say. Someday he wouldn't have Kid, Cody and the other riders at his back, and he wondered what he would do then. But, that wasn't today. He nodded, and followed the others back to their horses, hoping that someday there wouldn't be men like Barlty out for him.